Thursday, April 4, 2019

I Guess I'm Post-Ac Now?

As you all (all five of you still reading this blog that I update like four times a year now. HI!) already know, I was laid off from my full-time professorship almost exactly a year ago. As I've been trying to put my life back together, I kind of lost it—it being my sense of purpose, focus, and overall identity.

While I have been managing to keep it all together in a superficial sense (by, like, you know doing the things I have to do every day to keep my bills paid and my kids fed and whatnot), I haven't felt like myself for a long time now.

About two months ago, I started seeing a counselor (a thing I should have done earlier, but I was still reeling from my previous bad experience). Today, I think our session led to a bit of a breakthrough on just where my current struggles are rooted.


See, I have always had a plan. I went straight from being valedictorian of my high school class with my "most likely to succeed" title worn like a suit of armor into a B.A. into my M.A. and then finishing my Ph.D. while working full-time in an academic career that had clearly delineated steps. I was climbing the staircase well. I was ticking off the boxes and knew exactly when I would be up for associate professor and exactly when I would be up for full professor. I knew exactly what I was going to do in between to ensure that I would attain each of those titles.

It's not just the long-term track of academia that fit me so well, though. Every day was planned out in advance. I created the document that ensured it at the start of every semester when I made a syllabus that had each class period mapped out. I knew when I would be grading papers. I knew when they would be due back to students. I knew what topics I would cover on each day. I knew when I would hold office hours.

Sure, there were always little changes that needed to be made to adjust for life. A snow day could throw things off kilter for a week. A sick day could push back the paper due date. But, for the most part, I always knew where I needed to be, and I was always there. In my daily life, my monthly life, my yearly life, I could see the sign posts plotted out—distant but solidly visible—for literally the rest of my professional life.

This is where it's important to stop and tell you a quick story.

Once, my husband and I were chatting, and I was looking over my big, beautiful planner. I sighed happily and said something like, "Looking at this planner is the one thing that can make me feel calm when it's all going crazy."

He was shocked, "Really?! My planner does nothing but stress me out!"

It was a clear, foundational difference in the way we viewed the world. He looks at a planner and sees endless tasks to accomplish and time slipping away. I look at a planner and see order and undeniable proof that it can all get done and will therefore all be okay.

Planning is part of who I am as a person. It's as natural to me as breathing and (so it turns out) perhaps as essential.

I was dealing with grief over the loss of my career. I was dealing with anger over the way that it ended. I was dealing with panic over my sudden financial uncertainty. Sometimes I still get flashes of those things.

But they are not what has me here, a year later, spinning in circles and seeking therapy. Those things all make sense to me, and I have the comfort in knowing they will all—in one way or another—run their course and fade.

What is not fading, though, is the sense of being untethered. Adrift. Unstructured. Unplanned.

In fact, that sense recently got a lot worse when I decided to give up my adjunct professor position. This was without a doubt the most logical choice in terms of financial benefit, time constraints, and potential for professional growth. It was, by all accounts and months of obsessively considering the options, the right choice.

But it was also the ripping down of the only remaining pillars of external structure in my world. When they were gone, I felt immediate freedom. I could now spend my time doing exactly what I wanted.

Then I took a good, hard look at that freedom. It went on forever. Into the horizon. With no sign posts to tell me what to do tomorrow or next month or two years from now.

This, ultimately, is what being post-ac means to me. It means freedom so vast it is paralyzing. It means staring out across the barren landscape and picturing all of the structures I could erect there but still craving a bit of the comfort of an ivory tower that's nowhere to be seen.